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Old 01.08.2007, 21:20
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Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

Dear EF,

I have lived in central Switzerland for about 16 months and generally speaking, I enjoy it very much.

I have invested many hours studying German and I am at a pretty solid level of understanding and speaking-when the conversation is in high German.

Lately, I find myself feeling really isolated when I am in social situations with other native Swiss German speakers. At first, I just accepted not being able to understand what was going on as part of the `deal`that comes with moving to a new country. However, now that my high German is at a level that I can follow and participate in conversation, I cannot help but find it to be rude that those around me continue to converse in Swiss-German while I sit there trying to piece together what they are discussing.

Every so often a kind soul will `throw the dog a bone` and ask me a question that presumably refers to their conversation. And I-quite lamely-have to respond by saying that I do not know what they are talking about.

Does anyone else have any advice about what they do in these situations?

I should add that I do understand some of what is said in Swiss German and I also plan to learn Swiss German when I think my German is really stable enough.

However, in the meantime, as much as I really am grateful to have such kind in-laws and family here in my `home away from home`, I find myself dreading these situations more and more.

Any similar experiences or words of advice would be really appreciated.

Signed,

At a loss for words
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  #2  
Old 01.08.2007, 21:28
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

Dear SonnyK, sorry to hear of your situation. Perhaps you need to try harder at jumping in with a question while trying to follow a Swiss-German conversation -- instead of waiting to be 'thrown a bone'. Can one realistically expect a roomful of partying people to speak in High German just for one person?

Otherwise, mix more with Germans and Austrians, or English-speaking folk.
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Old 02.08.2007, 00:13
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

I know what you mean, but look at it this way for example.
You live in Brooklin (for example), you meet an out-of-towner, and he is from England and has never been to a place where "the queens English" is not spoken. Well, you invite your new friend to hang out at a bar one evening while you and yer buds r slurrin' yer slang an talkin' awl funny ahgt! Well when you talk directly to the English guy, YOU SPEAK PROPERLY AND NORMALLY, and wen u speek to ur bro's u say it as u do.
Well the English guy will probably say, "WTF"? but you need to remember, now, YOU are the English guy getting into others peoples NORMAL conversation.
Even though everyone speaks the same language, the dialect and pronounciation may be far from your understanding.
I don't think they are disrespecting you, but remember, you did not grow up around their dialect. Don't take it personnally, just sit back and try and follow.

I speak French, but luckily all the French from here and France is pretty much the same, but the slang, well you don't find it in the learning system at schoool, you just have to pick it up.

Relax and be happy you are socializing with "the gang", if you were invited, chances are, they aren't going to be rude and two faced (maybe).

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Old 02.08.2007, 07:47
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

High German is a foreign language for Swiss-Germans. You would probably have better luck speaking English, the Swiss feel much better making a mess in English than in High German, which they should be better at...
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Old 02.08.2007, 07:59
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

I can certainly relate to what you are saying! it is a difficult situation, but I agree that you will have to try to speak to them rather thatn wait for them to speak to you. My German is very poor at the moment but although I can understand I cannot speak, so I occasionally drop comments in and on the whole they are well received. Stick at it, and you will survive! It does make you long for your friends at home though!!!
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Old 02.08.2007, 08:08
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

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High German is a foreign language for Swiss-Germans. You would probably have better luck speaking English, the Swiss feel much better making a mess in English than in High German, which they should be better at...
I agree heartily with this statement. In many ways, expecting the Swiss to speak 'High German' is like expecting the Dutch to speak 'High German'. It's almost that different.

Now, we english speakers can complain that we're encouraged to speak 'Proper English' when we're growing up. In fact I often do complain on this very topic. It makes me feel a bit better. BUT... that doesn't change the fact that the Swiss grow up speaking their particular dialect(s), and many older people do not speak 'High German' at all. One of my wife's aunts was ecstatic that I spoke some swiss-german, as she didn't speak 'High German', while one of my wife's cousins (this particular aunt's daughter) enjoyed being able to speak english with me. :-)

After about 2 1/2 years here, my german has devolved into a mishmash of 'High-German', Basler/Basellanderdeutsch, Walserdeutsch and Zurideutsch. I've noticed now, when I go into Germany to shop, I have to remember to speak a better 'High German' than I am used to speaking.

Since your German is good enough, think about taking a Swiss-German course. The grammar is very different than that for 'High German', as it is a bit more like English grammar. There are a couple of shows on tv that are interesting enough to watch, and are in Swiss-german: Punkt.ch and Edelmais & Co. A lot of the humor is visual, so the shows don't get boring if you can't understand all the words.

Good Luck!
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Old 02.08.2007, 10:55
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

Thanks for feedback and opinions on this matter.

Someone mentioned speaking English, but I should add that my family here does not speak English. My observation is that most of the Swiss who do speak English are equally comfortable speaking high-German.

During family social gatherings, sometimes, my husband translates for me into high-German. I cannot help but find it annoying that he has to translate from Swiss-German into high-German because someone decides to not speak high-German to me directly.

I understand that speaking high-German is in many ways like speaking a foreign language to native Swiss. However, high German is the only language that is common to us. And rest assured, that my German is still considerably poorer than that of most Swiss. Incidently, when I arrived I tried to find a school that would allow me to learn Swiss-German first and of course as many of you have also come to realize, one must first prove proficiency in High-German.

As a side note, when I find myself in a situation where not everyone speaks the same language as a first language, I am intentional to speak the language that is common to everyone when possible. I also notice that many Europeans do this as well.

I have not found it particularly helpful to criticize or judge the Swiss for how they choose to communicate. That is just how it is. However, there must be a way that I can communicate to them-in a way that is considerate and respectful-that I would appreciate that they speak in high-German.

It seems to me that when I say I do not understand what they are saying that they would consider that is because I do not understand Swiss-German. However, maybe I need to be more specific and say, `I do not understand what you have said in Swiss-German. Could you tell me in high-German?` I cracked up from laughter the other day when I requested this and the response was that the person repeated what he said LOUDER in Swiss-German. LOL!

I have also asked my husband if he could ask them to speak to me in high-German, as I have other friends who found that to be helpful. I do not think he is very comfortable to ask them.

Does anyone have any experience with asking people, maybe in a family social situation, to speak high-German? Is it unreasonable? Was it well-received? For those of you who are married to a Swiss, how do you handle these situations?
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Old 02.08.2007, 11:22
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

Do you speak German at home or English? If you speak German can your husband add 3 or so new swiss dialect words every week into conversation? I know that my partner does it with me and it helps me understand the dialect better.

Also if people are speaking dialect (norm here is they do ask if it is ok to speak in dialect) and I dont understand something that is being said- asking is the best thing because then they normally will repeat it to you in high German.

A good reference book to have is the 'Wörterbuch Schweizerdeutsch- Deutsch' (ISBN 3 251 00417 4)- it looks like a Swiss Passport in case you go searching for it.
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Old 02.08.2007, 11:29
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

You're thinking too much about this. Ask them to speak in High German because you don't understand what they are saying. I know it's a different language, but most grown-ups can at least speak basic High German without too much difficulty. Their High German is likely to be better than yours for the first few years, even if they're from Geneva.

If this tactic doesn't work, tell your man you don't fancy meeting so often with the family as it's pointless. Tell him to go alone. Or dominate the conversation with English. You will have to endure many, many encounters where you only get 5% of what's said. That's not unique to you, most newbies have to get through this tough stage. (It's fab when it reaches 30%!) But declare your intention to use High German. If they can't at least compromise some of the time, chastise your hubby You come before them, remember. He should be on your side.
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Old 02.08.2007, 13:12
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

Although my experience has only been on the French side I can certainly empathize.

For the last 11 years I have been visiting my Wife's family in Valais on Holidays, Christmas etc staying with them for anything up to 10 days. It has been quite painful at times. Since none of her family spoke any English.

Since these were brief visits I didn't make a big enough effort to learn French. I did take some evening classes however living and working in England meant I had very little use / practice for it. My Wife still blames herself for not teaching me and now we don't get the time with a 2 year old running around.

Now also we have moved to Switzerland she's worried she'll start losing her English so wants to speak English at home. I'll be going off to more French classes in Late September, so for now it's back to the books / cd's / Television.
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Old 22.09.2007, 22:10
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

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High German is a foreign language for Swiss-Germans. You would probably have better luck speaking English, the Swiss feel much better making a mess in English than in High German, which they should be better at...
That is the point, Swiss Germans do not like to speak High German, they have the same problems like people in Austria: there have not their own language, their official language is High German but Swiss German is no official language.

Besides that: I heard that the Swiss Germans do not like to speak French as well , is that true ?
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Old 22.09.2007, 22:29
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

Some Swiss don't even speak proper high German! I've made it a point to learn Swiss German when I moved here and ignored people who advised me that high German is enough...I'm glad that I ignored their advice. The thing is, high German is OK for one-on-one conversation, but put a few Swissies together and they will start speaking Swiss German. I think that the Migros Klubschule has courses for learning Swiss German.
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Old 22.09.2007, 22:41
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

Having a great personality and a magnetism enough, means that folks will speak convenient languages for you, in order to get to know you more.
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Old 22.09.2007, 22:42
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

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High German is a foreign language for Swiss-Germans. You would probably have better luck speaking English, the Swiss feel much better making a mess in English than in High German, which they should be better at...
I visit Switzerland for a few weeks every summer, and since I speak French I tend to stay in the francophone regions. That, of course, excludes about 75% of the country

I was thinking of attempting to learn German (obviously High German, I suspect that it is simply impossible to learn Swiss German in the USA) to be able to travel more widely. From much of this thread, especially the above quote, it seems pointless.

Is that a reasonable conclusion?
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Old 23.09.2007, 00:24
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

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I visit Switzerland for a few weeks every summer, and since I speak French I tend to stay in the francophone regions. That, of course, excludes about 75% of the country

I was thinking of attempting to learn German (obviously High German, I suspect that it is simply impossible to learn Swiss German in the USA) to be able to travel more widely. From much of this thread, especially the above quote, it seems pointless.

Is that a reasonable conclusion?
It's pretty much impossible to learn 'Swiss German' in the US. You _might_ be able to pick up some Allemanisch someplace, but the chances of that are also pretty slim.

You can pretty much get by with High German or English here for traveling purposes. You might want to learn the Swiss-German numbers and a few other things. However, unless you live here there's no point in learning Swiss-German at all.
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Old 24.09.2007, 00:40
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

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Besides that: I heard that the Swiss Germans do not like to speak French as well , is that true ?
Only to the extent to which the Swiss French dislike German. The Swiss Italians on the other hand know their German or French pretty well though.
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Old 24.09.2007, 09:44
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

I do speak High German fairly well, use english for work here.

During the last 8 years I was working for the company in Geneva, I came every 2/4 weeks to the company in Zürich for coordination meetings. The people then spoke to me in English or High german, even the business meetings were held in High German, and when we went out for lunch the conversation was in english or high german.

Now after several years of asking it to me, I decided and moved here to Zürich on april 07.

The thing is, now those people only talk in dialect with me... as If they thought that for the fact that I am now living in Zürich I must instantly be a swiss-german speaker.

The same people that made the effort before to speak to me in a language I could understand, now simply speak only swiss-german when they are around me, in meetings, during the lunch, at the coffe break etc etc.

I allways considered is not proper ettiquette to speak on a language not everybody understands.

As an Spanish, Italian, French, English and German speaker I can switch to the most suitable language for the group and I usually do.

However I understand some Swiss German, but not all and sometimes at lunch I just get some bits and pieces.... this obviously make me wish not go with them to lunch, because I feel excluded.

But I think this is something I have to learn if I wish to stay in Zürich.... the language here is Swiss German and not high German as many of us thought before
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Old 24.09.2007, 13:47
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

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That is the point, Swiss Germans do not like to speak High German, they have the same problems like people in Austria: there have not their own language, their official language is High German but Swiss German is no official language.

Besides that: I heard that the Swiss Germans do not like to speak French as well , is that true ?
Another reason to live in the French part, if you ask me Swiss German sounds more like a throat infection than a language.

Nick
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Old 31.12.2007, 14:41
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

Hi there,
I've always wondered if outsiders like me feel as left-out as I do sometimes and while reading your concerns, I've begun to feel little relaxed. I've been here now for almost a year. In the beginning, it was okay 'coz I was new and didn't really care or realize that I didn't understand what they say or discuss. After a while, be it in the family or at other social gatherings, it was awful. I didn't understand a word of what they said and yet I'm obliged to be with them. I never felt more out-of-place and more dumb. I really missed my friends back home and wished I never came here.
And it's really true that speaking high German is like speaking a foreign language to them. They try it for about 10 minutes but I could feel a strange atmosphere developing among them. So, requesting them to speak in HG for me was not pleasant.
But I guess, every dog has its day. I believe there'll be a time when we'll be able to feel more comfortable among them. It helps to listen, observe and ask for the meaning of words when they speak. Good luck for us!
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Old 31.12.2007, 17:58
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Re: Language and table manners, or Language Integration in Switzerland is Painful

Im glad to hear Im not alone
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